The quality of psychological research as currently published in academic journals is questionable because of possible 'data dredging'. It is time for psychologists to decide on a new publication model that would certainly alleviate this problem.
Recent incidents in psychology have made me think about the state of the art of psychological research. The quality of psychological research as currently published in APA and related journals is questionable. One of the main reasons in my opinion is that from current papers it is impossible to tell whether the conclusions are derived from predefined hypotheses and honest statistical analysis, or from data dredging, i.e., trying everything to get a significant result out of your data. I think it is time for psychologists to decide on a new publication model that would certainly alleviate this problem.
The practice in current psychological research is that researchers first do their investigation, and only afterwards write a report about the results and try to sell that report to a journal. With this practice we can never be sure whether the results as published derive from predefined hypotheses and preset data analysis schemes, or from data dredging. Therefore, the quality of psychological research as currently published in our main journals is questionable. To make psychological research more reliable I think the current publication model should be trashed and a new one adopted. Here are my thoughts in a few steps:
- Before data acquisition the researcher should write a short synopsis of the research to be conducted, including main hypotheses, a detailed plan for data collection, the exact number of participants to be included in the study, and a detailed statistical analysis plan describing exactly which analyses are planned. This proposal is sent to the editorial office for review.
- The editorial board should decide at that moment whether the research project is interesting enough for publication in their journal. If the answer is yes, they commit to publishing the research results regardless of a positive or negative outcome (is there ever a negative result?). The only conditions are that the investigator adhere fully to the initial plan and writes a proper report.
- With the acceptance of the research plan the journal also commits to publishing (online) all studies trying to replicate the original research.
- If the investigator receives a “yes” from the journal the research activities can start .
- The investigator performs the research project as planned. The analyses are reported properly, irrespective of whether the hypotheses are confirmed or rejected.
- In the discussion section additional analyses maybe performed. It is clear that these analyses are merely exploratory and only meant to give direction to future investigations. Note that these analyses do not include new participants, but only point to other statistical methodology which in hindsight is thought to be more to the point .
- With the publication the journal publishes additional online material. These include the exact data collection procedure (for example a copy of the questionnaire as used, or the e-prime program as used to collect data), the raw data file (the exact answers as provided by the participants), and a syntax file that provides the results reported in the paper exactly.